Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013; Second Reading
Just over a week ago I was approached by a resident in my electorate. He was an experienced tradesperson, he was unemployed and he was desperate to get work because he had a mortgage to pay and a family to provide for. He had applied for work at a major construction site in Adelaide where tradespersons were being recruited. He was knocked back for a job that he was capable of doing and he told me the job was given to a foreign worker on a 457 visa. The person I refer to was himself a migrant to Australia who had resettled here some years ago. That experience exposes to me what is wrong with the current arrangements and why the changes associated with this legislation, the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013, are necessary. Australian residents should not be unemployed because foreign workers are taking their jobs.
I listened with interest to the comments of the member for Cook. Whilst he spoke about productivity, at no stage did he ever speak about the rights and entitlements of Australians living in this country to access the jobs that arise from the productivity and the development of our country. Not once did he stand up for the real Australian people of this country.
We know that unemployment rates in many countries are much higher than they are in Australia. The unemployed in other countries are also desperate for work. I have spoken to some of them who have come to this country on visitors visas and they have told me that they would dearly love to come here just so that they might be able to get work, because they too have families to support and mortgages to pay. So, not surprisingly, they are prepared to travel to Australia if it means getting work. It also means that they are more likely to accept work conditions below those that they would be entitled to and they know full well that if they stand up to unscrupulous employers their work will be terminated and they will be sent back home. There is no doubt in my mind that it is much easier to exploit a foreign worker than an Australian worker.
I am also concerned that the list of occupations for which it is claimed that there are skills shortages can very quickly become obsolete or simply be wrong. It is important that we address that very issue because many of the skills that we bring into this country are based on lists that are compiled by someone somewhere. I do not know who compiles those lists or where they seek their information from, but what I do know is that those lists can indeed very quickly become obsolete because, as soon as you have perhaps a major loss of employment in one sector, it suddenly changes the ratio of people that are looking for work in a particular skill set. So it is important that the skill shortages listed on the Skilled Migration List are not only regularly updated but also reliable and reflect the true nature of what is happening in communities.
In recent times we have seen a shift in job vacancies across employment sectors within Australia. We have seen that because we have seen different employment sectors either go up or down in terms of their general productivity and contribution to Australia. I accept that from time to time there will be genuine skill shortages and it will be in the national interest to bring in skilled workers from foreign countries and that if we do not we will simply be impeding productivity. Where genuine skill shortages do exist, it makes good sense—and in fact it is in the national interest—to recruit from overseas. That is why we have a migration policy based on two-thirds of permanent migration into Australia being tied to meeting skill shortages. We know that bringing in people from other countries is indeed good for the development of this country, as it has been from day one and as it has been particularly since the post-World War II migration period. I spoke about that very matter in a speech in the House only a couple of weeks ago and also about the contribution that the migrants who have come to this country since World War II have made to the development of this nation. This is not a question about the contribution that skilled migrants—whether they be permanent migrants or 457 visa migrants—have made to this country; this is a question about doing the right thing under the current circumstances whereby Australians who are looking for work should be given the opportunity to secure the work that is available before we look offshore to fill the jobs.
Our migration policy is indeed based on supplementing, either by permanent skilled workers or temporary work visa workers, how we meet the needs here in Australia if there is a shortage of a particular skill. Of course, some people will argue that if we have skill shortages we should be skilling or reskilling Australians looking for work. The fact is that the government is doing exactly that but, as we all know, skilling takes time and often jobs need to be filled quickly. However, what we have seen recently at a time when the jobs market has been tight is temporary subclass 457 visa numbers rising from 68,400 in June 2010 to 106,680 in May 2013. That is a 56 per cent increase in numbers in three years. The numbers simply do not reflect what is happening in the jobs market and we all know it. Interestingly, the Migration Council of Australia reports that 15 per cent of employers say that they could have employed locals and that seven per cent of the foreign workers were paid differently. I am not particularly interested in the statistics per se because those figures reflect information that has been brought to me by people in the community on a fairly frequent basis. I see it myself, as I referred to in my opening remarks in my address on this matter. So why were foreign workers chosen over Australian workers by those 15 per cent—or whatever the number is—of employers? It is very likely because they were paid less and they could not complain because, if they did, they would be sent home. That is why labour testing needs to be reinstated. Employers need to show what steps they have taken to recruit locally and they need to show that no suitable local person was available to fill the job.
This government understands how important it is for Australians to have a job. That is why, when the GFC hit Western economies hard, the Labor government committed to an economic stimulus package, investing in community infrastructure, school infrastructure and transport infrastructure. The government did this not only to build necessary infrastructure for the future but also to ensure that Australians had jobs and that Australia did not go into recession. And we did that whilst at the same time growing the Australian economy by around 14 per cent and creating some 950,000 new jobs.
The changes within this legislation ensure that employers must go through a robust process if they want to employ a foreign worker ahead of an Australian worker. I see nothing unreasonable about that whatsoever. The process they must go through, for example, is that they must demonstrate that they are not nominating positions where a genuine shortage does not exist. In some cases the English language requirements have been raised. The market salary exemption will rise from $180,000 to $250,000. On-hire arrangements of 457 visa workers will be banned. Compliance and enforcement powers will be strengthened. I also welcome the provision that extends from 28 consecutive days to 90 consecutive days the period that a subclass 457 visa holder has to find an alternative job with an employer sponsor or to arrange their personal affairs at the conclusion of a sponsored employment.
The member for Cook referred to a letter from the Business Council of Australia which oppose these changes. I assume the letter was sent to all members, because I have received one and I have a copy with me. The Business Council oppose, in particular, a return to the labour market testing. They oppose having to justify why they need to hire a foreign worker ahead of an Australian worker. I believe that most businesses do the right thing and I believe that most businesses act responsibly and that they comply with Australian law. But within society there will always be unscrupulous employers who do not do the right thing and who will seek to exploit any leeway that they are given. It is because those people exist that we need to ensure that we have a robust policy in place. In fact, you could say that about all aspects of life. We wouldn't need any laws at all in this country if you took the view that most people do the right thing, because most people do. But we do have laws because there are always some that do not, and that applies in the employment sector as well.
If unions are standing up for the rights and jobs of Australian workers, so they should be. For the member for Cook to continuously use this legislation to attack the unions on the basis that they are standing up for Australian workers is simply wrong. It is their right to stand up for Australian workers—and if they don't, who will?—just as employers stand together to protect their interests, and they have a right to do that as well.
My views are not guided in respect of this matter by anyone's figures, whether they are the Business Council of Australia or one of the departmental figures; they are guided by what I believe is right or wrong. I believe it is right that we create jobs in this country. I believe it is right that those jobs, if they become available, ought to be given first to Australians. And I believe it is right that if we cannot fill those jobs that we then seek to employ from offshore, as we are doing and as we have done for decades. This legislation simply puts into place what most people I speak to and most people in my community are saying to me: that we need to be fair and sensible in how we treat employment in this country and we need to ensure that Australians are not on the unemployment queues because someone from offshore has taken their job. I commend the legislation to the House.